Play has been the theme of June at WellBeings, and nothing quite screams playfulness louder than the LGBTQ+ community this month every year when the world comes together to recognise and celebrate the high vibrations created by this wonderful set of humans. The parades, the fanfare and the colourful events have always been a vibrant display of self expression and a chance for equality to step boldly into the spotlight, but during his stint as the director of Auckland Pride, Max Tweedy, took the organisation back to its roots, and then a step further. In a candid interview with Dominic Bowden a few months ago, he shared insights into his journey, the changes he made to the organisation, and the importance of community support. From sparking confidence at a young age to fostering a sense of belonging, Max’s leadership has transformed Pride Auckland into an inclusive and empowering movement.
Where did your energy and confidence come from at such a young age?
(at the time) There were really big discussions that we were having as a community about what pride was, what it stood for, and I guess where it should go from there. And so when the role came up, I thought, God, what an amazing opportunity and what an incredible job this would be to hold. I didn’t think I’d get it. But of course, I did. And so I guess, you know, what I was motivated by was, I guess the energy and the dedication from our communities in fighting for the values of pride that we all thought it should stand for. And I thought, well, if I can bring that to the role and help to shape the organisation going forward, then I’d love the opportunity. And so, yeah, I got it! So I don’t know if it was fully confidence, but I was definitely grounded in what we had fought for and the experiences and the solidarity that we’d built as a community over the few months prior.
What were the significant changes you made to Pride Auckland, and how vibrant is the community now?
So I think one of the things that the community had called out for was that pride was becoming just a celebration. And that’s a really critical part of pride, and it always has been, but I think one of the other critical parts of pride, and when you look back to the Stonewall riots in 1969, or even the Gay Liberation movement here in 1972, the protest and the political side of it is just as critical. And it’s just as critical now as it was 50 years ago, because there are still so many gains yet to be made for our communities, especially trans and non-binary communities. Also for our Māori, Pacifica, and migrant rainbow communities as well.
So for some in our community, they felt like we are not actually at a point where we feel like we can celebrate yet; we still need to fight for things and we need to be loud and make ourselves heard. So one of the most important things I think that we did was enable ourselves to hold those dual values of pride: liberation and celebration. What we tried to do was make sure that there were opportunities for all of our communities to engage in pride and to participate in pride in a way that felt authentic to them and how they wanted to express themselves within Pride, whether that was fighting for change or celebrating the gains made or just celebrating who they were or who they are rather.
That, to me, is the biggest shift that has happened. And I think things have flown on from that in terms of it becoming more accessible and more representative of our communities. We’re still on that journey, and every year we keep striving to do better.
How does PRIDE impact young people and the community during challenging times?
What we’ve seen through the research and that is very real is that sense of connection that our events have provided, that is quite significant for mental health outcomes. That sense of connection, a sense of belonging, that visibility, it’s the spaces where people get to see themselves reflected, where they feel like they can be themselves. We often hear from our communities that that has been incredibly impactful.
How has the high school experience changed for LGBTQ+ individuals?
I mean, I think it has changed quite significantly. I don’t think we’re at a point where we can say, yes, every single high school in Auckland is a super inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals. But I would say that we are moving towards that. And I would say that, you know, it varies from school to school and I can’t speak for every school. But I think that I would say that schools are more aware of their role in supporting young people now. I think, you know, you see more collaborations with organisations, like ourselves or, you know, other rainbow organisations. I think that that’s been really positive. You see more young people at our events, which is really positive as well. I think teachers are more aware now of their role and how important it is that they are supporting young people in their classrooms and in their schools. And that’s not just for LGBTQ+ young people. It’s also about other aspects of diversity, you know, like race and culture and ability and all of those sorts of things as well. And so we’re seeing that they’re more aware, they’re more confident in their ability to support young people, and they’re looking for opportunities to do that. So it’s definitely a shift, but I don’t think we’re there yet. And I think we still have a long way to go. But it is nice to see that we’re moving towards it.
What advice would you give to parents and the community to create a more inclusive environment?
Love your child unconditionally and support them no matter what. I think if you can provide that base level of support and acceptance, that is the most important thing you can do. And beyond that, I think it’s about learning and listening. So there are some incredible organisations, both locally and internationally, that can support parents in navigating what it means to have an LGBTQ+ child or young person, and so I would encourage parents to seek out those resources, to read up on it, to listen to other people’s experiences, and to talk to other parents who have been through it as well.
And I think the other thing is to know that you’re not alone. I think a lot of parents feel like, oh my gosh, it’s just me. But actually, there are so many of us out there. And we’re all on this journey together. And so I think connecting with other parents, whether that’s online or in person, I think is really important. And so there are some great resources out there. RainbowYOUTH here in Auckland is an incredible organisation that supports young people and their families. So yeah, I would just say you’re not alone, seek support, love your child unconditionally, and just be there for them. That’s the most important thing.
How does Pride Month contribute to happiness, creativity, and inclusivity?
I mean, PRIDE is important for our communities, but it’s just as important for everyone else too, to honour the people that they love and to learn more about our communities and kind of share in the fun and the creativity and the excitement that we all share. And so PRIDE Month is a real magical time around the world in June. But you know, obviously we save it til the summer month of February for obvious weather permitting purposes.
But yeah, it’s great that everyone comes together to celebrate and, and to share in the joy of our communities and use it as an opportunity to push forward. It is truly for everyone.